Vertex spends $320m on Semma mark 2

It would perhaps be unfair to interpret Vertex’s acquisition of Viacyte today as an admission that its cell therapy for type 1 diabetes, VX-880, will likely not succeed in its current form. After all, the clinical hold ’880 was placed under in May was lifted last week. But Vertex clearly feels it needs new strings to its bow. The deal will secure it the similar technologies Viacyte is working on, all of which consist of stem cells engineered to mature into functional beta cells, encapsulated in implanted devices. Vertex said the deal would “accelerate our goal of transforming, if not curing” type 1 diabetes. The acquisition is highly reminiscent of the deal Vertex did three years ago when it bought Semma Therapeutics for $950m – Semma’s technology was also an implanted device containing stem-cell derived islets. Notably this has not yet progressed into the clinic; investors must hope that Viacyte’s projects do better than Semma’s once they are under Vertex’s control. Be that as it may the deal leaves Vertex with only one major competitor in this particular niche: Sernova. Perhaps in three years’ time Vertex might buy that group too. 

Selected cell therapies in development for type 1 diabetes
Company Product Device-based? Status
Vertex VX-880 (cell infusion; evolved out of Semma's work) No Ph1/2
Cell-device combo (from Semma) Yes Preclinical
Viacyte Pec-Direct (VC-02); "open" device w PSCs, requires systemic immunosuppression Yes Ph1/2
Pec-Encap (VC-01); "closed" Encaptra device w PSCs Yes Ph1/2
Pec-QT; "open" device Yes Preclinical
Sernova Cell Pouch w human donor islets and systemic immunosuppression Yes Ph1/2
Cell Pouch w micro-encapsulated islets Yes Preclinical
Cell Pouch w Evotec’s induced PSC-based beta cells Yes Preclinical
Throne Biotechnologies Stem Cell Educator No Ph1/2
PSC = pluripotent stem cell. Source: Evaluate Pharma, company websites.

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